Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Surviving war

George Rice in 2003
Strange in a world of uncertainty, war and conflict, to look back 100 years to the Battle of the Somme, halfway through 'the war to end all wars'. Since 1914 British soldiers have never not been involved in a conflict or war.

Personally I have only met one World War One Veteran, and was lucky to be involved in interviewing him 12 years ago.
I had actually known George for some five years before, as the man who played the keyboard and mouth organ in the room next to where I ran art & craft workshops in an Old People's Care Home in South Birmingham. He'd perfected the mouth organ in trenches as a young man during World War 1. He was a modest man who spoke little, and it was only when we were invited into his room, we were aware of his age when seeing his Legion d'Honneur for services to France framed on his wall.


The project, Agelink in 2003, involved young people interviewing older people in care homes. Beau and Leanne asked perfect questions, including a question he had been asked before - what was it like killing German soldiers with a machine gun in world war one? He was as candid as he had been for previous interviews, recounting the german soldiers falling 'like a pack of cards '.
"It was just my job as a soldier,..I don't know what you felt. You were there to fight the enemy. Feelings didn't come into it in that sense, frightening or otherwise."
His family spoke in obituaries of his faith, and the 'military horrors were deliberately shunned':
George's revulsion at war and the horrors he had witnessed on the Western Front may explain why his family have never found a picture of him in service uniform. It is thought he may have destroyed them
Next week I will be working on a Peoples heritage Cooperative project to bring young people to Lodge Hill Cemetery and discover the stories of the mostly young men who died in the Great War 100 years ago.  They will find out about the men and their families from census records.  They will follow their last days through Archive and Regimental records.

I can only hope that we learn from the conflicts and warfare of the past so maybe we will see a time in the next 100 years when Britain is neither at war or in conflict.


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